There is a place in our hearts that is horrified when we witness events like the one that unfolded in San Bernadino CA, this past week. By last count, fourteen people woke up that morning, never realizing that that day would be their last upon this earth.
If you don’t know the story, two individuals (driven by their religious zeal) made the deliberate choice to leave their home, leave their six-month-old child behind, arm themselves, and willfully take the lives of fourteen people whom they had never met.
In response to this event, the hurt, the anger, the sadness – are all immense. The questions (all seeking to make sense of this tragedy) are seemingly endless.
Questions like: how could any human being do these kinds of things to other human beings?
Or what could possibly have caused people, like this, to willfully murder other people?
To me, the most pertinent question is centered in one issue: Why would a young couple leave behind their only child to perpetrate this kind of horrifying action? How could any young mother and father say “Goodbye” to their own child – knowing that they would never again share in the joy and wonder of that child’s life? What would drive anyone to leave behind the things (the people!) that should be cherished the most?
At the very core of the answer to all these questions is one thing… radical religion.
This couples’ actions were motivated purely by their ideology – their religious convictions. They had committed themselves so completely to their beliefs, that any price they paid, to uphold those beliefs, could never be too high. They abandoned their child. They threw away their lives. They destroyed the lives of fourteen other families, and shocked a community, ALL in the name of their religion.
Let’s not forget… they did what they did, believing that they were right to do so – they were justified in doing so. In their ideology, their actions were an act of bravery, of celebration, of merit – deserving of eternal recognition and reward. They paid the ultimate price to make one single point: their way is the ONLY way – and anyone who does not share their convictions must be judged summarily.
We need to understand that this is the nature of all religion. Religion demands a radical commitment. Religion always seeks to propel its proponents to the edge of commitment – to make zealots of all who would embrace that religion’s belief system. Watered-down, passive, believers gain nothing in their faith – only the wholly committed (who will willingly sacrifice all) need apply.
Make no mistake, no matter what is believed, all religion directs and demands that the faithful become a radical follower of the faith.
You may be surprised to know that Christianity is exactly the same. The message of the Christ is a radical message. He speaks of things like “taking up your cross daily, and following after Me.” He often speaks of leaving things behind, of laying things down, of sacrificing your own needs to serve the needs of others – and of paying a price deserving of Who He is. The Christian life is not one of ease and comfort, or one with zero problems and no concerns. The true Christian life is a radical commitment to lose all, for the sake of gaining Christ. This is just as Jesus told us.
In a very real sense, the commitment to Jesus is NO different than the commitment required from any other religion. Religion demands all. Requires all. Expects all.
But here is the difference. All the other religions, of this world, demand that their proponents dutifully submit to a long list of rules and behaviors. They also lead the faithful to accept the fact that those who fail to commit themselves to their list of rules and behaviors should be treated with contempt (and, in the most extreme cases, eliminated from the face of the planet!). This is the essence behind radical Islam. True Islam demands total commitment – and that commitment necessitates that the faithful fulfill all the rules and rituals. It also demands that the unfaithful should be treated severely, and without mercy. That couple in San Bernadino just gave us a real and indelible picture of their true faith.
So how is true Christianity any different? In just this way: the radical commitment that Jesus demands from the faithful is centered in one thing… LOVE. God is not seeking for people who will faithfully keep a bunch of rules and regulations. He is not looking for people who will live perfect moral lives, or perform a plethora of holy rituals. He is seeking for people who just simply desire to love Him – who will abandon their hearts to the the Heart of the Most High.
When Jesus was asked about the commitment required from those who would be faithful to Him, He said: “You must LOVE the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Jesus went on to add an important second part to this requirement: And “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It all comes down to something as simple as this : “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
The radical commitment required in true Christianity is centered in LOVE. Love God with your whole being – then love everyone around you in every way you can. Love your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers. But also, love your enemies – and (even) pray for those who seek to do you harm. In short.. let love be your passion… and your pleasure, “for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)
You’ve probably heard it said before that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. That is true. Rules and rituals are not at the center of a real relationship – love is!
But here’s the thing. Without a radical love for God (and an equally radical love for all humanity) at the center of our faith, Christianity CAN BE nothing more than a religion (centered in all the things that all the worlds religions are centered in [such as rules, rituals, behaviors, human effort, etc…]). Put another way, Christianity (without love at its center) is just as wayward and dangerous (maybe more so!) as any of the other world religions. All one has to do is look at Christian history to see things such as the crusades, the inquisitions, indulgences, and so on. Then we take note of things like the current hate-centered groups who profess to be Christian (yet are consumed with condemning the sins/flaws of every one with whom they disagree!).
True Christianity is always defined simply by looking at the life and ministry of Jesus. Everywhere He went, He just loved. He met needs, He gave of Himself, He constantly did things to help people who needed to experience the love of God in action. He did not condemn. He did not revile. He was God among us – and He just loved us. This is what all true Christians must also be!
It is interesting to me that the only people Jesus ever “took to task” were the religious leaders (the good, moral, religious people of His day). They were the ones who were demanding that the people adhere to all their rules and rituals – without an ounce of love in their hearts. Jesus knew, so well, that radical religion, without being centered in (and consumed with) love, was destined to make “terrorists” of us all.
It is too easy to say that radical Islam is the problem. The real issue is radical religion. Radical religion leads us all to devastate and destroy the lives of others (to varying degrees).
Unless… that radical religion leads us to love as Jesus loved – and live as Jesus lived.
This is what true Christianity is supposed to be: A people in love with the God Who loves humanity so much that He gave Himself, so that we could love in return.
Only true Christianity is the hope of the world. For only true Christianity is centered in unrelenting and unconditional love!